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The Superior Council of Magistracy Restricts the Access to Information through Impersonalisation of Judgments

06 February 2017
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Journalists and netizens are confused about the decision of the Superior Council of Magistracy of 21st of June 2016 on the approval of the “Regulations for the publication of judgments on the joint website of the courts”. Thus, while everyone who wished to know if a certain person is involved in any criminal case could previously access the website instante.justice.md and write the person’s name to find the respective information, this search option has been excluded and the information can only be found using the file number and type. Moreover, the same Regulations provide, in paragraph 15, that “the judicial assistant has the obligation: if necessary, to impersonalise the court judgment”.
 
Media Azi made an experiment with the purpose to find out how the content of the court judgements looks like, when published on the official joint website. 10 court judgements have been accessed, all with the same wording: “The public prosecutor - XXXXXXXXX, considering the guilt of XXXXXXXXX fully proven, pleaded for sentencing the defendant to 120 hours of unpaid community work, under art. 2011 par. (1) of the Criminal Code”.

This issue is hardly criticised in the media and on the social networks. Media Azi asked several journalists and experts in media law to comment on the fact whether the decision of the Superior Council of Magistracy affects the journalists’ access to information. To be noted that, although the document came into force in July 2016, its provisions started to be applied on the official joint website instante.justice.md, after the civil society launched the campaign against the abusive interpretation of the Law on the protection of personal data.

Alina Radu, director of “Ziarul de Garda”: “This is an unprecedented step backwards in the history of the transparency in the Republic of Moldova. We have been fighting throughout many years for the digitisation of these data and, thanks to the external funds, this module was developed and the information was provided to the public, and now someone simply, without any public consultation, withdraws and deteriorates what has been done for the sake of the public interest. It is a reliable barrier used to hinder the journalists from informing the public about the lawsuits against the politicians and public persons. The dossiers related to Plahotniuc, Filat, Papuc, Guma, Perju would have never come to public attention, if the data on the names of the parties in trials were not open. How will the society henceforth know about the corrupt politicians who are brought before the court?”

Cornelia Cozonac, president of the Centre for Journalistic Investigations: “I think that it was prepared in advance and it is part of the unannounced campaign undertaken by the governance with the purpose to restrict the access of the media and of the citizens, in general, to public information, the information that would help uncover the schemes with the involvement of the officials, the acts of corruption, the fraudulent management of public funds, etc. This act of the governance is actually a consequence of the journalistic investigations and of articles criticising the officials and the State institutions, produced over the past years. Thus, they are discontent with the press revealing more and more facts, with the press monitoring on what the authorities do and further information of the public about the problematic cases and they barricade themselves, restricting in all ways the journalists’ access. The achievements in terms of opening the access to broader information are now being erased very easily, although money from international projects was spent to develop and provide access to databases”.

Tatiana Puiu, lawyer: “This decision is arbitrary. According to the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, the hearings shall be public countrywide and trials behind closed doors shall only be allowed in cases established by the law. The European Court of Human Rights, for example, publishes in its HUDOC database the full name of the complainants, or the date of birth, or the place of residence. Moreover, in 2014, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled in a suit against the National Centre for the Protection of Personal Data that “the general interest of having a public and transparent justice tilts the balance to the detriment of the individual interests of the persons whose names appear in the judgments that are published”.

The Ministry of Justice issued, on 3rd of February 2017, a press release explaining the need for adopting such Regulations: “A growing number of citizens have lately addressed complaints concerning the infringement of their legal rights, as a result of the publication of their names on the courts’ website. The citizens invoke the provisions of the Law on the protection of personal data that are violated, in their view, when publishing their names, as justice seekers, in the documents published on the courts’ website”.